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Alternative forms[edit]

Notable African-Americans


Patterned on forms such as Irish-American, popularized by Jesse Jackson[1] and in common use since the late 1980s.[2]


  • IPA(key): [ˈæfɹʷɪkən əˈmɛɹʷɪkən]
  • (file)


African-American (plural African-Americans)

  1. A member of an ethnic group consisting of Americans of black African descent.
    Synonyms: Afro-American, Afromerican, (slang, archaic, US) unbleached American; see also Thesaurus:person of color
  2. (US, broadly, proscribed, sometimes offensive) Any black person.
    Synonyms: black, (dated) Negro, (dated) colored, (highly offensive) nigger, (highly offensive, dated) darky
    Hypernyms: person of color, nonwhite

Usage notes[edit]

  • In the US, this term is often seen as a more formal and polite alternative to black.[3]
  • Aside from black and of color, most other synonyms are dated, and likely to be considered offensive in the US.
  • This term is not generally used for Americans of North African descent, such as Moroccans or Egyptians, nor is it used for White Africans. It is specifically used to refer to the group of people that have descended from the Atlantic slave trade, racial segregation, and the civil rights movement that have resided in the United States for centuries as well as other Americans with African heritage, but the term is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to other groups of people, such as West Indians, more recent African immigrants, or erroneously to any black person, even if not African or American. This incorrect usage can cause offence.



African-American (comparative more African-American, superlative most African-American)

  1. (of a person) pertaining to the African-American ethnicity.
    Synonym: Afro-American, Soulaan
  2. (US, broadly, proscribed, sometimes offensive, of a person) Any person of black African descent.
  3. Of or pertaining to the culture of African-American people.

Usage notes[edit]

  • See the notes about the noun, above.



  1. ^ Isabel Wilkerson (1989 January 31) “‘African-American’ Favored By Many of America's Blacks”, in The New York Times, page A1:A movement led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to call blacks African-Americans has met with both rousing approval and deep-seated skepticism in a debate that is coming to symbolize the role and history of blacks in this country.
  2. ^ African-American at Google Ngram Viewer
  3. ^ Cydney Adams (2020 June 18) “Not all black people are African American. Here's the difference.”, in CBS News, CBS News, retrieved January 18, 2024

Further reading[edit]